Proper Reality 1985-2010
We lost one of our great old warriors today. Twenty-five year old Proper Reality was euthanized, after a bad bout of colic this morning.
Proper Reality’s sireline ran five generations back to the great Man o’ War, not something you see everyday, and not to be taken lightly. He was a smallish, dark bay horse and while he didn’t look anything like his famous multiple-great granddad, he nonetheless won 1.7 million dollars in his racing career. He won big races—10 of them in 19 starts–including wins in the Southwest, Illinois and Arkansas Derbies. He also ran fourth behind the great filly Winning Colors in the 1988 Kentucky Derby, a race with wonderful horses like Risen Star, Seeking the Gold, and Forty Niner. At Old Friends, he was our highest-placing Derby runner. His successful racing career is especially relevant I think, because Proper was a good example of the correlation between great racehorse and just plain smart horse.
Since his arrival, Proper lived in one of the two paddocks directly behind the small farm office. He loved this particular space, and it was well-suited to his personality. He quickly figured out two things. First, he discovered people plus buckets equal attention. Second, and more impressive, he learned that a tour group walking along the south side of his fenceline would eventually walk back along the north side of his fence. And Proper never, ever missed a chance to greet you at both fences. In fact, I’m more than half convinced he tried to look “different” the second time around, on the chance we wouldn’t realize he’d already gobbled his share of the carrots!
Proper was one of our kinder, attention-loving stallions. Kids could pat him, and he somehow seemed to know when a horse novice was in our group. He never failed to stand especially still for non-horse people to fuss over him, and I know he put a little extra spark into his camera pose for them. But it also wouldn’t surprise me if he was a bit of a pistol to handle in his day, because he did have that look in his eye that said “I’ll do it my way.” Nevertheless, he totally understood his job at Old Friends, and he was a fine ambassador for retired racehorses.
I always felt a little extra connection to Proper, maybe because I was the person who spent a few minutes preparing his stall just before his arrival. I put in some fresh straw, filled his water bucket and added a few flakes of hay. He arrived in late in the day, and the next morning when he was turned out, he spent a couple minutes running around, winding up his neighbors. As soon as Bull and Norty started showing off, Proper just rolled his eyes and settled down to graze. He had made his point: “I’m here now, boys. And I‘ve still got it!”
Proper had a beautiful way of moving, light on his feet and graceful. I saw him happily romp around when he felt especially good, and I saw him contentedly take long naps in the sunshine. Whenever I saw Proper run, I never failed to think, wow, that horse raced with Winning Colors. The stories he could tell…
Logically, with our thinking brains, we know that Old Friends is a farm populated with aged horses. We should, and do, expect these days. Still, it doesn’t matter that we know it because when we lose one, it hurts. There is always someone– a farm or track worker, maybe a fan or volunteer or former owner somewhere– who counted that particular horse among their favorites. For those people, times like today are especially heart-wrenching. Proper had made more than his share of friends since arriving at Old Friends. I don’t know how much luckier a horse person, a racing fan could be, than to get to know a horse like him.